Read on to learn about how Jim first got into playing, his advice regarding lessons, his first gigs as a teen and how he develops his playing and songwriting. He also runs us through his Stone Sour stage set-up and the endorsements he has had over the years. A great interview with a top fella!
Roadrunner: When did you first start playing guitar and was it the first instrument you ever picked up?
Jim Root: Yeah, my parents had an old nylon string acoustic guitar that I would mess around on which I think had like two stings on it when I was like, 12/13 years old and then I begged them from the time I was 12 until I was probably 14 or 15 for a guitar and they got me this Memphis- not any brand name or anything- like a Les Paul Jr copy, like a double cut away, That was alright, then I begged and begged and begged for a nice guitar and I got a bass, cause the person at the guitar shop told them that if I wanna learn guitar, that I gotta start with bass. I got a Cort bass it looked like a Fender P Bass and I did one bass lesson with that and Paul Wilson, the guy I did the bass lessons with, saw I had good dexterity and a good ear and I pretty much schooled the lesson so I went right out from the lesson, and was like “err Dad… [aughs] I don’t wanna play bass, I wanna play guitar cause all my favourite guys play guitar” and then I got a Takamine electric guitar, so that was kind of like my first real quick guitar. My first real real guitar I had was a Charvel, model 1 and that was when I was 15 I think I got that.
RR: So your parents were really supportive?
J: Yeah it’s weird like, my Mum’s openly supportive and my Dad’s like a closet supporter! It’s weird- you can’t really get more than three words out of him at any given time, you know, he’s one of those guys. [Laughs] But he was really supportive, I just didn’t know it.
RR: You mentioned bass lessons, did you have guitar lessons?
J: Yeah, took guitar lessons for maybe four months, something like that and the guy showed me how to tune the guitar, and showed me stuff like the open chords, E G F etc and all that stuff and after he showed be bar chords, he just basically started showing me how to play songs. I was already sitting in my bedroom, you know listening to the taps and records already figuring out songs on my own so I didn’t really need that so I was kinda like I don’t really need these kids of lessons. After that I got into bands with people and actually learned more about playing guitar being in bands with people than I did with him. If you wanna learn how to play guitar all you gotta do it open up guitar magazines and there’s all kinds of scales and lessons and things like that. It’s just a matter of talking the time and sitting down and [plays a scale] know what I mean, that type of shit [Laughs]
RR: So you wouldn’t necessarily recommend for people to have lessons just as long as they apply themselves?
J: Oh, some people need it. It just depends on the type of person you are. I sort of had a natural ability; I already kinda knew what was up before I ever put my hands on one, kinda had a grasp of it, you know. For the people that are a little bit more logical or a little bit less ‘vibey’ I guess you could say, or things like that, some people just you know, maybe don’t have the dexterity so they might need somebody to motivate them. It’s like me ya know- I’d like to lose a few pounds and I’d like to go to the gym everyday but I cant do it on my own. I need to actually pay someone and then I know in my head it like okay, I’m paying this person money [Laughs] so I have to go to this place and actually use this crap and I wouldn’t do it on my own. There’s some people out there that just wouldn’t do it on their own unless they knew that they were spending their hard earned money on it. A lot of guitar teachers- I’m sure there’s a lot of good ones out there- but the guys that I was learning from, when I came up in Des Moines, they weren’t really, you know, it was like “here, photocopy this lesson out of the back of this guitar player magazine and practice the scale in front of me for 20 minutes. It’s like you know, what kinda lesson it that? And now with the internet you can get lessons online- Berkeley’s does class online and all that shit so…
RR: So you mentioned playing along to records and stuff and home- what artists were really inspiring you to pick up the guitar?
J: Its hard to say cause around the time I started playing guitar I discovered a bunch of new bands. Around that time I had two or three different guitars- I had that A Takamine which got stolen and then my parents for Christmas they got me a Washburn 4 6 that was black with like the neon orange lining around it (I’ve been trying to find another one but their hard to find, you cant find them on Ebay or anything), but I was playing along to ‘Too Fast For Love’ Motley Crue and stuff like that cause that was cool, you know and Ratt- the actual Ratt album you know? [Plays a riff] That type of thing. Then all of a sudden a dude that I went to school with was like “Check this band out! Their drummer needs an oxygen mask!” and mind you this was before the internet and this was when I lived in the Mid West in Des Moines Iowa so it took a while for shit to get to me. So he played ‘Ride The Lightening’ for me and that blew my fucking mind!! I was like “What the hell is this?” That opened up my mind to like seeking out new and different music and trying to find different bands and the way different bands approach guitar playing and song writing and things like that you know. Back then it was more I just wanted to be in a band and I wasn’t thinking in terms of improving my skills or becoming a song writer or learning how to record or any of that stuff, it was simply ‘I wanna get up and jam and bang my head’ [Laughs] you know? It was literally that simple and I was just lucky because when I live in Des Moines, well in Ankeny Iowa actually there wasn’t a lot to do so I had a lot of time to spend with the guitar, and I had a lot of supportive people around me- I got really lucky in that way. So instead of you know, I don’t know, snorting a bunch of meth I ran scales! [Laughs]
RR: So tell us a little bit about those really early bands when you were really young. Any embarrassing stories?
J: Oh absolutely! I was in a band and I think every 12 year old was in a band called like ‘Crystal Blade’ or ‘Crystal Axe’ or something like that. Okay so I think I was 14 years old and this was the first time I ever played in front of people ever and it was with the guy that introduced me to Metallica and ‘Ride The Lightening’ and this was after ‘Kill Em All’ was already out so I had to go backwards…So we played downstairs in an arcade in the local mall- I can’t remember the name of the place, but we played there and it was like one of those things where you know your grandparents show up and that’s about it, you know? [Laughs] But we played Loudness and some Judas Priest and ahh its just weird the stuff that we played! I think we only played like four songs and I had to have my Dad take me to practice at a friends house in because I was grounded! I was under lockdown because I had gotten caught with pot by the police in Ankeny and they didn’t like write me up or press charges. Check this out- the Ankeny police had me right an essay, a 1500 word essay on why pot is bad so what I did was, I got an a encyclopaedia out and I read a bunch of stuff about marijuana, you know and I wrote down how they use it to treat glycaemia patients and (Laughs) and all the like medicinal properties and all the good things that (Pauses) ohh whatever you know I was 14, you know didn’t know any better. [Laughs] So we had this first gig and I remember the other guitar player was doing like a guitar solo or something and he was like really embarrassed or something and he was failing so I just starting playing over the top of him [Laughs] and then he like thanked me afterwards and I was like ‘It’s cool’…God that was so long ago!
RR: When would you say you first cut your teeth on like writing your own material?
J: I had a band called Atomic Opera that I was in- a thrash metal band; like speed metal- and in that band was the first time that I ever like wrote a song and it was kind of like a riffy tune. At that time I was I heavily into Mustaine and “Killing Is My Business” and “Peace Sells” – those were my two favourite records so I was like riffing out and at that time I also like Flotsam and Jetsam and Metallica and Anthrax and Slayer and stuff like that of course cause that’s what was out- oh and Overkill, ya know all that. It was a song called “Across The Sea Of Doom” and me and drummer wrote it. I just sat there and I’d come up with a riff and he’d come up with a drum beat for it and then we’d be like “Okay, so how many times should we play that?” .. “I dunno, like eight times” … “Okay, so we’ll do that eight times, and then we’ll go into this other part” so ya know everything was in a series of eights or fours, which is not unlike what I do now, you know, pretty much do the same thing! [Laughs]
RR: So when would you say you finally kind of realised that your guitar playing was really coming together and could take you somewhere?
J: It was in the same band. I was in the band Atomic Opera from the time I was 16 years old until I was like 22 or 23. I mean it was Des Moines, it was a small town, not a lot of musicians so we kind of had a lot of success around Des Moines. We could go play and make good money and we were really good at saving all the money that we made to use to record with. We would rehearse at our drummer’s- our drummer’s family owned an electrical business- and we would rehearse in the warehouse of the electrical company and we would play covers and we would play our own songs and stuff like that and I remember the other guitar player in the band was a little older than me (he was actually a guitar instructor and he owned the guitar shop where I bought most of my guitars and everything where I took my bass lessons at and all that) and he showed me all the modal scales but other than just playing I didn’t really know anything else about it. Then one day we were playing a song and it came time for the lead break and all of a sudden I was like ‘Oh wait a minute’ and something clicked in my head and I was able to put together the shapes before I even played them; like I would see the shapes on the fret board and I could just follow them around the back and I was like ‘ohhh’ ya know? [Laughs] Like a light goes off! And that happens every once in a while, cause I don’t sit there and practice- I don’t really learn anything new as much as I should.
I try keep everything as organic as I possibly can and you know you get in ruts when you do that but every once in a while you do something or you think of something a little bit differently and the light goes off for me and I love that. I let that naturally happen rather than forcing myself to learn something ya know? I’ve had guys try to sit there and teach me theory, ‘Well if you got this note and that note, then the third note of this note, then you’re at a natural fifth or’…and I’m like well what does that mean? Ya know, does it sound good when you do that? [laughs] I dunno, you know how does that help you write a song? [Laughs] I just kind of threw all that shit out the window but it was probably around the time I was 17 or 18 when I really started to put it all together then going ‘ohh there’s a reason why I’m playing all these scales! I can make other noises with the guitar rather than just power chords!’ [Laughs]
RR: Yeah, so do you use different guitars when your playing with Slipknot to the ones you play in Stone Sour?
J: Nope, use all the same ones.
RR: And who are your endorsers at the moment and who have endorsed you in the past?
J: I was endorsed by Jackson first 2000 / 2001- they built me a couple really nice custom guitars and I was kinda having some trouble with the craftsmanship of those guitars so I moved on and went to PRS and those guitars were absolutely great but I just felt like something missing you know? They were absolutely great guitars, very road-worthy, they sounded great, they were very consistent- each one was just like the previous one- but I grew up basically playing Fenders and Charvels and that’s what is comfortable to me and normal to me. I was lucky enough to have met Alex Perez at Fender on Ozzfest in ’99 and I kept his contact information and I had a couple of Fenders and he would build me strats when I would ask for them and I would pay him like a artist cost for a couple of strats here and there and I was like ‘you know I’m just gonna play Fenders pretty much exclusively from now on’ and that’s when they started sending me the flatheads. So, I was endorsed by Jackson, PRS and then I went right to Fender and then when I was with Fender, I kinda bounced around between Fender and Charvel. But Fender owns Jackson and Charvel anyway so its kind of like the same company now anyhow.
RR: You’ve kept it all in the family…
J: Yeah pretty much. You know I’ve always had a kind of a soft spot in my heart for Gibson Flying V’s. I’ve never been endorsed by Gibson- I used to buy guitars that are at artists costs from them and I was looking for a Gibson endorsement like around 2001 but they were like really hardcore about their endorsements back then; they wouldn’t give guitars out to hardly anyone, unless you were Jimmy Page or somebody like that so it was really difficult and I’m a little bummed out about that cause had they played ball with me back then, then I’d probably have a signature model you know, Flying V which would be cool and actually they recently offered me like an artist inspired one from the custom shop which is really cool but I have to think that one through a little bit though cause you know, my heart is at Fender and they’ve been absolutely great to me. As far as acoustic guitars are concerned, I can pretty much do whatever I want, there is only one acoustic guitar company as far as I’m concerned and that’s Martin and that’s only because Eric Clapton plays them… [Laughs]
RR: What’s your setup on stage?
J: I’m using two orange Rockerverb 100’s, one head is powering 24 12 speaker cabinets and they other head is powering a 4 12 speaker that’s in an iso cab thats mic-ed off for front of house and then i have a GCX switching system thats like a midi switching system running a bunch of pedals and on the pedal board I’ve got like a Small Stone, a compressor, a couple of Carbon Copy Delays. I’ve got a Electro-Harmonics Pog that I use in ‘Say You’ll Haunt Me’… It’s really just a basic less is more set up. I all always run a Boss LS2 noise suppressor- the old ones not the news ones- ‘cus the new ones have the lead free solder and it cuts the signal down. The old leaded solder is way better ‘cus it has stronger signal. Audio-Technica Wireless systems… Guitars I have [Fender] Jazzmaster with my signature specs out on the road and I really like it a lot. I didn’t like it when I got it, but when I played it live- it just feels so comfortable and well balanced. So I got this guitar, two Tele’s with sig specs, my original number 1 white prototype and my new Silverburst one they just made for me, 2 strat signature models- one is a promotype they made for me and the other is a Silverburst that they made for me. I got a Gibson flying V- a white one I play on ‘Digital’ with EMG pick-ups. They all have EMGs in them except for the two E flat guitars that I have for ‘Through Glass’ and when we play ‘Hesitate’- I’ve got a custom classic pro which is a custom shop strat and then I have a David Gilmore signature model strat that I use but I have been using the custom classic lately ;cus the David Gilmire has been kinda noisy due to buzzing caused by some of our lighting.